The first four volumes of Marcel Giraud’s History of French Louisiana, published in France between 1951 and 1974, represent the most exhaustive and authoritative scholarly study of France’s establishment in the lower Mississippi Valley. In this fifth and final volume of Giraud’s magnum opus, published in the United States for the first time ain a translation by Brian Pearce, Giraud unravels the complex story of the Company of the Indies between 1723 and 1731 and traces the development of the Louisiana colony during those difficult years.
When the Company of the Indies was reorganized after the defection of Scotsman John Law, its leaders faced economic and political conflicts in both France and America. Managerial abuses and power struggles within the new system often interfered with the administrative process and created divisions of loyalties among officials and settlers.
Political leaders were not, however, the only ones struggling for control within the new territory. As Giraud relates, Jesuit and capuchin religious leaders were also at odds with one another over the division of territory in which they were to minister. Giraud explores the strained relationship between the two orders and the political motives an associations that influenced their leaders.
Despite political and religious turmoil within the territory, the foundations of colonial society were being laid in New Orleans and Mobile. Attributing the growth of these areas to agricultural expansion and to the introduction of slavery, Giraud offers a lively, detailed description of the economic and social development of Louisiana’s nascent urban centers.
Giraud also traces the expansion of colonial control into the interior of the colony—the Illinois country, Nachitoches, and the Natchez country. It was the neglect of the defense of these outposts, blamed by Giraud of the Company’s emphasis on economic development and its strict fund-sharing policy, that ultimately resulted in its downfall. On November 28, 1729, angry Indians attacked the small French garrison in Natchez, massacring numerous soldiers and civilians. This attack marked the beginning of war with the Natchez tribe and the withdrawal of the Company of the Indies from Louisiana.
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